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Thursday, July 7, 2011

UPDATE: TEXAS SHOWDOWN: Texas executes Mexican after court stay rejected




HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- Texas executed a Mexican citizen Thursday for the rape-slaying of a teenager after he and the White House pleaded in vain for a Supreme Court stay, saying he was denied help from his home country that could have helped him avoid the death penalty.

In his last minutes, Humberto Leal repeatedly said he was sorry and accepted responsibility.

"I have hurt a lot of people. ... I take full blame for everything. I am sorry for what I did," he said in the death chamber.

"One more thing," he said as the drugs began taking effect. Then he shouted twice, "Viva Mexico!"

"Ready warden," he said. "Let's get this show on the road."

He grunted, snored several times and appeared to go to sleep, then stopped all breathing movement. The 38-year-old mechanic was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 10 minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing into his arms.burned a T-shirt with an image of the American flag in protest. Leal's uncle Alberto Leal criticized the U.S. justice system and the Mexican government and said, "There is a God who makes us all pay."
After his execution, relatives of Leal who had gathered in Guadalupe, Mexico, 


Leal was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda, whose brutalized nude body was found hours after he left a San Antonio street party with her. She was bludgeoned with a piece of 30- to 40-pound chunk of asphalt.

Leal was just a toddler when he and his family moved to the U.S. from Monterrey, Mexico, but his citizenship became a key element of his attorneys' efforts to win a stay. They said police never told him following his arrest that he could seek legal assistance from the Mexican government under an international treaty.

Mexico, the Obama administration and others had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay Leal's execution so Congress could consider a law that would require court reviews in cases where condemned foreign nationals did not receive help from their consulates. They said the case could affect not only foreigners in the U.S. but Americans detained in other countries.

The court rejected the request 5-4. Its five more conservative justices doubted that executing Leal would cause grave international consequences, and doubted "that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation."

"Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be," the majority said.

The court's four liberal-leaning justices said they would have granted the stay.

Leal's attorney Sandra L. Babcock said that with consular help her client could have shown that he was not guilty. But she added, "This case was not just about one Mexican national on death row in Texas. The execution of Mr. Leal violates the United States' treaty commitments, threatens the nation's foreign policy interests, and undermines the safety of all Americans abroad."

Prosecutors, however, said Congress was unlikely to pass the legislation sought and that Leal's appeals were simply an attempt to evade justice for a gruesome murder.

Mexico's foreign ministry said in a statement that the government condemned Leal's execution and sent a note of protest to the U.S. State Department. The ministry also said Mexican ambassador Arturo Sarukhan attempted to contact Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who refused to speak on the phone.

The governor's office declined to comment on the execution Thursday.

Leal's argument that he should have received consular legal aid that could have helped his case was not new. Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state, has executed other condemned foreign nationals who raised similar challenges, most recently in 2008.

Leal's appeals, however, focused on legislation introduced last month in the U.S. Senate by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. Leahy's measure would bring the U.S. into compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations provision regarding the arrests of foreign nationals, and ensure court reviews for condemned foreigners to determine if a lack of consular help made a significant difference in the outcome of their cases.

"Americans detained overseas rely on their access to U.S. consulates every day," Leahy said after the Supreme Court decision was announced. "If we expect other countries to abide by the treaties they join, the United States must also honor its obligations."

The Obama administration took the unusual step of intervening in a state murder case last week when Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. joined Leal's appeal, asking the high court to halt the execution and give Congress at least six months to consider Leahy's bill.

The Mexican government and other diplomats also contended that the execution should be delayed so Leal's case could be thoroughly reviewed. Some also warned his execution would violate the treaty provision and could endanger Americans in countries that deny them consular help.

Measures similar to Leahy's have failed at least twice in recent congressional sessions. The Texas Attorney General's office, opposing the appeals, pointed to those failures in its Supreme Court arguments and said "legislative relief was not likely to be forthcoming."

Stephen Hoffman, an assistant attorney general, also said evidence pointing to Leal's guilt is strong.

"At this point, it is clear that Leal is attempting to avoid execution by overwhelming the state and the courts with as many meritless lawsuits and motions as humanly possible," Hoffman said.

Prosecutors said Sauceda was drunk and high on cocaine the night she was killed, and that Leal offered to take her home. Witnesses said Leal drove off with her around 5 a.m. Some partygoers found her brutalized nude body later that morning and called police.

There was evidence Sauceda had been bitten, strangled and raped. A large stick that had a screw protruding from it was left in her body.

A witness testified that Leal's brother appeared at the party, agitated that Leal had arrived home bloody and saying he had killed a girl.

In his first statement to police, Leal said Sauceda bolted from his car and ran off. After he was told his brother had given detectives a statement, he changed his story, saying Sauceda attacked him and fell to the ground after he fought back. He said when he couldn't wake her and saw bubbles in her nose, he got scared and went home.

Testifying during his trial's punishment phase, Leal acknowledged being intoxicated and doing wrong but said he wasn't responsible for what prosecutors alleged. A psychiatrist testified Leal suffered from alcohol dependence and pathological intoxication.

Sauceda's mother, Rachel Terry, told San Antonio television station KSAT her family already had suffered too long.

"A technicality doesn't give anyone a right to come to this country and rape, torture and murder anyone," she said.

In 2005, President George W. Bush agreed with an International Court of Justice ruling that Leal and 50 other Mexican-born inmates nationwide should be entitled to new hearings in U.S. courts to determine if their consular rights were violated. The Supreme Court later overruled Bush.

Associated Press Writers Jesse J. Holland in Washington and Porfirio Ibarra in Monterrey, Mexico, contributed to this report.



US president warns Texan authorities that execution would put America in breach of international legal obligations

Chris McGreal in Washington
guardian.co.uk  Tuesday 5 July 2011 16.39 BST

                                            Photograph: Bob Strong/Reuters

President Barack Obama is attempting to block the execution in Texas on Thursday of a Mexican man because it would breach an international convention and do "irreparable harm" to US interests.
The White House has asked the US supreme court to put the execution of Humberto Leal Garcia on hold while Congress passes a law that would prevent the convicted rapist and murderer from being put to death along with dozens of other foreign nationals who were denied proper access to diplomatic representation before trials for capital crimes.
Leal, 38, was convicted in 1994 of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio. Few question that he was responsible for the killing but the Texas authorities failed to tell Leal, who was born in Mexico and has lived in the US since the age of two, that under the Vienna convention he was entitled to contact the Mexican consulate when he was arrested.
Leal's lawyers argue that the lack of consular access played a role in the death penalty being applied because the Mexican national incriminated himself in statements made during "non-custodial interviews" with the police on the day of the murder. Had Leal had access to the Mexican consulate it would have been likely to have arranged a lawyer who would have advised the accused man to limit his statements to the police. As it was, the Mexican authorities were never informed of his arrest.
In a 30-page brief to the supreme court, the administration said that the carrying out of the execution "would place the United States in irreparable breach of its international law obligation" under the convention.
The White House said it was in the US's interests to meet its treaty obligations.
"These interests include protecting Americans abroad, fostering co-operation with foreign nations, and demonstrating respect for the international rule of law," it said.
Carrying out Leal's execution would cause "irreparable harm" to US interests abroad, the administration added.
"That breach would have serious repercussions for United States foreign relations, law-enforcement and other co-operation with Mexico, and the ability of American citizens travelling abroad to have the benefits of consular assistance in the event of detention," it said.
The legal situation has been complicated by earlier court rulings.
In 2004, the international court of justice (ICJ) ruled that the US authorities had failed to meet its legal obligations to 51 Mexicans awaiting execution in American prisons when they were not informed of their right to contact their consulates.
The then president, George W Bush, a former Texas governor who backs the death penalty, said the US would adhere to the ICJ ruling which, in effect, meant the death sentences would be reviewed or commuted. But in 2008 the supreme court ruled that while the US government was obliged to comply with the ICJ ruling it did not have the power to force individual American states to do so. Only Congress could require adherence by passing a law.
The Obama administration has told the supreme court that a bill has recently been introduced in to the Senate to do just that but it is unlikely to win the approval of both houses of Congress before next year. The White House wants Leal's execution put on hold until the law is passed but two courts have already ruled that pending legislation has no effect on the legal process.
The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has appealed to Perry to commute Leal's sentence to life imprisonment.
Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said that if Leal was put to death it would be "tantamount to an arbitrary deprivation of life".
Perry's office has said Texas laws had been abided by and that Leal would be executed for "the most heinous of crimes".
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/05/obama-stop-texas-mexican-execution

White House seeks delay of Mexican man's execution

HUNTSVILLE (AP) — The planned execution Thursday of a Mexican national has prompted a flurry of appeals on his behalf, including a rare plea from the White House, because of what it could mean for other foreigners arrested in the U.S. and for Americans detained in other countries.
Humberto Leal, 38, is awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on whether to block his lethal injection in Huntsville. He was sentenced to die for the 1994 rape and murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda of San Antonio.
The appeal contends that authorities never told Leal after his arrest that he could seek legal assistance from the Mexican government under an international treaty, and that such assistance would have aided his defense. Leal moved to the U.S. as a toddler.
Leal's attorneys have support from the White House, the Mexican government and other diplomats who believe the execution should be delayed so his case can be thoroughly reviewed.
"There can be little doubt that if the government of Mexico had been allowed access to Mr. Leal in a timely manner, he would not now be facing execution for a capital murder he did not commit," Leal's attorneys told the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in a clemency request rejected Tuesday. "Unfortunately, Mexico's assistance came too late to affect the result of Mr. Leal's capital murder prosecution."
President Barack Obama's administration took the unusual step of intervening in a state murder case when it asked the Supreme Court last week to delay Leal's execution for up to six months. The U.S. solicitor general told the court that Congress needed time to consider legislation that would allow federal courts to review cases of condemned foreign nationals to determine if the lack of consular help made a significant difference in the outcome of their cases.
The legislation, backed by the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, would bring the U.S. into compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations provision regarding the arrest of foreign nationals.
Lower courts already rejected the pleas, agreeing with the Texas Attorney General's office that since the legislation hasn't been passed and signed into law, it doesn't apply. At least two measures like it failed earlier in Congress.
"Leal's argument is nothing but a transparent attempt to evade his impending punishment," Stephen Hoffman, an assistant attorney general for the state of Texas, told the Supreme Court.
Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., wrote numerous congressional members and Texas officials calling attention to the legislation and the case and urged Gov. Rick Perry to stop the punishment.
Perry had the authority to issue a one-time 30-day reprieve but made no decision while the courts remained involved.
Prosecutors said on the night she was killed, Sauceda was drunk and high on cocaine at an outdoor party in an undeveloped neighborhood of San Antonio and was assaulted by several males. At some point, prosecutors said, Leal showed up and said he knew her parents and would take her home and explain the situation to them.
Witnesses said Leal drove off with Sauceda around 5 a.m. Some partygoers found her brutalized body later that morning and called police, prosecutors said. When officers arrived, they found Sauceda's head battered by a 30- to 40-pound chunk of asphalt and evidence that she had been bitten, strangled and raped. A large stick that had a screw protruding from it was left in her body.
Leal, a mechanic, was identified as the last person seen with her. He was questioned and arrested.
A witness testified Leal's brother appeared at the party, agitated that Leal had arrived home bloody and saying he had killed a girl. Testifying during the trial's punishment phase, Leal acknowledged being intoxicated and doing wrong but said he wasn't responsible for what prosecutors alleged.
The question of protection for foreign nationals under the international treaty isn't new.
President George W. Bush in 2005 agreed with an International Court of Justice ruling that Leal and 50 other Mexican-born inmates nationwide should be entitled to new hearings in U.S. courts to determine if their consular rights were violated at the time of their arrests. The Supreme Court later overruled Bush, negating the decision from the Netherlands-based court.
Jose Medellin, condemned for participating in the rape-slayings of two Houston teenage girls, in 2008 raised a Vienna Convention claim similar to the one pending for Leal. It failed and he was executed. 

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